The webcomics blog about webcomics

The Envelope, Please

So I’m guessing you’ve seen this by now:

[T]he National Cartoonists Society will have a web-comics division for the Reuben Awards this year….

There are many challenges involved, the crux of which is separating those web-comics creators who are doing truly professional work from those who are just enthusiastic hobbyists.

To this end, we are introducing a purposefully narrow-focused new division this year, which will be called “Best Online Comic Strip”, and will be judged by the NCS board in anticipation of being done by an NCS chapter in the future.

Key words there, which I’ll come back to in a moment: purposefully narrow-focused.

The tricky part is the definition of “professional” with regards to web-comics/self-published work. The NCS awards are industry awards, not art awards…. We need an independent “screening committee” to review the creators whose work is being considered to give us their opinion on if they meet the definition of “professional”, and this is what we have put together. Our screening committee will be made up of six experts on webcomics who are deeply involved/knowledgeable in the world of online comics including journalists and professors from major art colleges who are very enthusiastic about participating.

There follows a list of some damn impressive people with some damn impressive credentials and, against all logic, me¹. Onwards:

This is our first stab at this kind of thing. It is bound to have some bugs which we will learn from and hopefully improve the process next year. The important thing is that efforts are being made to include work being done on-line in the NCS’s recognition of excellence in professional cartooning.

And that’s what I wanted to talk about. You can read the list of very impressive people on the screening committee with me, you can read the list of criteria; I want to talk progress.

Because I think there’s going to be some criticism of this new award; I hope it’s reasoned and considered, but on the other hand — internet. It’s limited, yes, and it excludes much of the type of work that one finds in webcomics that simply couldn’t exist elsewhere, and it’s baby steps that don’t get us near where many people would like this sort of thing to be.

And that’s okay.

This is how institutions and groups change — in increments, stepping away from the familiar by only a small amount, then further as the comfort level and resistance to the change meets the reality that the world didn’t actually end. The NCS has more than six decades of Ways of Doing Things, along with members that remember and cherish those Ways and that’s exactly the sort of system that’s tends towards inertia². The recognition that things change comes slow under any circumstances, and just recognizing a possibility of change, much less the need for it, requires a shift in those Ways.

Is this a perfect way for the NCS to integrate webcomics? No. But holding out for perfect, no matter how much the officers of the NCS might push for change, would have meant never seeing progress — holding out for perfect is the enemy of getting something done — and incremental change is still change. I can only speak for myself when I say that I’m going to do my damnedest to see that all the work that can be forwarded under the criteria is; I am also confident that the sole motivation of my fellow committee members (and the judges who will actually make the award decision) is a love of comics and a desire to recognize the best work possible.

It’s a certainty that next year’s awards will be different as a result of the process of this year’s, and in bits and pieces both form and process will improve. That’s why I was so very honored by NCS President Tom Richmond’s request for my participation, and why I hope that nobody will look down on this new thing that we — all of us — are making. It’s limited, it’s unfinished, and before it’s done it’ll probably get messy as all hell, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Know what else involves awards, nominations, and comics work? The Hugos, at least with respect to the Best Graphic Story category. Since the Foglios swept the category in its first three years of existence with Girl Genius, they’ve graciously announced that they will not accept a nomination, meaning that it’s open season for [web]comics that are sci-fi-ish and debuted in 2011.

    Off the top of my head, I’m guessing that Schlock Mercenary, Starslip, Spacetrawler, and Drive would fit the criteria, with an outside chance for things like SS Myra (it’s pretty new) or Scenes from a Multiverse (it’s not really a continuing story, but there just might be enough repeat characters — it’s a shame that the bulk of the Sciencemaster Adler, Cornelius Snarlington, and bunnies stories took place before 2011; maybe there’s enough of Duck Thompson, News Duck?).

  • Getting into a juried show is kind of like nominating yourself for an award, right? TCAF acceptances started going out last night, and while the TCAF site isn’t updated with the exhibitor list, a search of the twitterverse would seem to indicate that this could be the Best TCAF Ever You Guys.
  • Finally, nothing to do with awards or nominations or anything, but I had to point out this comment from Rod Salm where he shares a poster he did on the floor at the 2011 Central Canada Comic Convention in Winnipeg, which depicts every cosplayer to visit his table for the duration of the con. Mr Salm, you crazy.

¹ Now you know what I was talking about back in November and December about a Potentially Very Cool Thing.

² Think it’s tough to overcome six decades of We’ve Always Done It This Way? The college that I attended didn’t admit women into the undergraduate program until 1995, and the change that finally came was because the number of alumni with the We’ve Always Done It This Way beliefs were finally outnumbered (and out-donated) by alumni with the The World Is Different Now beliefs. It took more than a decade of sustained effort to get there, with a four year lead time once the decision was made before it took effect. All the fuss and effort is now an historical footnote and fewer people remember each year, and it all turned out okay.

Aw, no love for Power Nap for the Hugos?

Or is it too soon?

Am I a dreamer?

Am I the only one?


Well, congratulations! Be sure to let the power go to your head slowly, so we can watch you go mad in a sinister yet entertaining fashion. Also, in a semi-related note, practice twirling the stache. Consider waxing it, too…

I fully expect someone out there in internetland to post a long rambling screed accusing the NCS of contributing to the ghettoization of webcomics by strengthening divisions between professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists, etc. But I think it’s pretty cool, for the record, and I reckon I have to be pretty solidly in the enthusiastic hobbyist category.

I’m glad to see that the NCS is doing this, and even happier that Gary is included.

But the snarky side of me wants to ask, “what would happen if rule #5 were applied to all of the division awards?…”

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